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Independents McCain’s key to Michigan?

McCain 2008
Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks at a town hall-style campaign rally in Howell, Mich., Sunday.Charles Dharapak / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

John McCain has an automatic advantage Tuesday when Michigan votes.

Not only did the Republican win the state eight years ago, but he also draws his support from across the political spectrum and Michigan voters of all stripes can participate in the GOP primary.

At the same time, the Democratic race in Michigan is of little or no consequence, so he won't be competing full-bore with Democratic candidates for the backing of independents as he did in New Hampshire last week.

"I don't know how the voters are going to break," McCain said Sunday, but added he hopes to do as well among independents as he did in Michigan in 2000 when he beat George W. Bush here. "Whether they're Democrat, Republican, independent, libertarian, vegetarian, whatever they are, it's the same message."

Back then, exit polling showed McCain won 67 percent of independents compared with 26 percent for Bush.

Seeking to reach out again to independents and Democratic crossover voters, McCain will campaign Monday in Michigan with Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut senator and independent who was the Democrats' vice presidential nominee in 2000.

Two days before the primary, polls show McCain locked in a tight race with rival Mitt Romney, a native son of Michigan whose father was a governor some four decades ago.

The Arizona senator is riding high after winning New Hampshire, with the help of independents, and is hoping a Michigan victory will follow. Romney is looking for his first big win after losing Iowa and New Hampshire. He came in first in Wyoming, a scarcely contested contest.

In New Hampshire last week, McCain led Romney among independents, 40 percent to 27 percent.

There are indications that McCain may again benefit from non-Republican votes.

He pulled in more than 1,000 people at Clawson High School on Saturday — one sign read "Independents for McCain" — and another 1,000 on Sunday at the Crystal Garden Hall in Howell.

One woman stood up and asked him why he has the reputation for being the "most liberal of all the conservatives."

"I'm entertained by it. I will match my record with anyone. I am pro-life, pro-defense, anti-regulation, anti-taxes, by any conservative measure you have," McCain said. He then acknowledged instances when he's broken with the Republican Party. "There have been times where I put the country ahead of my party, and I will continue to do that as president of the United States."

The line drew hearty applause.

In Warren on Saturday, one couple — neither Republicans — stood on the edge of some 400 people at a banquet hall.

"He's a centrist in my view," said Ted Fryxell, 37, a Democratic-leaning independent who plans to vote for McCain. "He's a Republican choice we can live with."

His wife, Jennifer Fryxell, 32, a registered Democrat, was weighing her options.

"I'm willing to listen to him," she said. She explained that she wants to participate in the Democratic primary to choose between John Edwards and Barack Obama but is considering voting in the GOP primary because neither are on the ballot; Hillary Rodham Clinton is only major Democratic candidate who is. "I don't want another Clinton," Fryxell said.